In Illinois, defenders of civil rights won a significant and satisfying victory this week with the passage of a civil unions bill. We explain what it will do for same-sex couples.
In Illinois, defenders of civil rights won a significant and satisfying victory this week. After years of organizing and strategizing, gay rights advocates -- led by State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) -- convinced 86 Democrats and seven Republicans in the state capitol to recognize same-sex couples in the Land of Lincoln.
Gov. Pat Quinn was in Springfield to watch both chambers pass the historic legislation (SB 1716) and he plans to "follow his conscience" and sign the bill into law when it reaches his desk. "I think it's a proud day for the people of our state and the families of our state," he said at a press conference from the capitol yesterday. Watch, courtesy of Illinois Statehouse News:
What will it mean in practice? Beginning on June 1, 2011, same-sex couples will be able to obtain a certificate of their civil union at their county clerk's office. The license will entitle those partners to the same legal treatment given to heterosexual spouses under Illinois law. Equality Illinois has identified roughly 650 state rights, benefits, and protections that gay families can't access currently. They include "tax relief, emergency medical decision-making power, access to domestic relations laws and procedure, state spousal benefits including workers' compensation, inheritance rights and benefits, spousal testimonial privilege, and the right to control disposition of remains." The Tribune's report on the legislation today outlines some ways in which families will be positively impacted.
The cost to the state in administrative overhead and additional benefit payments will be negligible. And supporters say the change might attract more businesses seeking an inclusive environment for their employees. Iowa is the only other Midwestern state that recognizes gay marriage or civil unions. (Nine others and the District of Columbia do nationally.) With jobs, of course, come increased tax receipts and consumer spending. Academics at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law estimate (PDF) that New Jersey -- which passed a similar bill in 2006 and has 4 million fewer residents than Illinois -- will generate $15.1 million in new revenue over the next three years because of its civil unions law.
Several editorial boards in Illinois echoed the governor's enthusiasm for the measure. "The Illinois General Assembly made a triumphant return to the national headlines over the past two days," wrote the State Journal-Register, "this time for actions that did not involve investigating, impeaching, or expelling a disgraced governor." The Tribune, which rarely praises anyone in Springfield, called the bill's passage a "remarkable and, yes, courageous step." And while pointing out that the state and nation still have a long way to go before gay Americans are afforded "the most basic of rights," the Sun-Times characterized the legislation as a "breakthrough."
Outgoing Chicago Mayor Richard Daley made a similar point this morning, thanking the General Assembly for coming "into this new century" but expressing hope that gay marriage is legalized soon.
Harris, who is one of two openly gay House members, shed tears on the House floor during his dramatic opening statement Tuesday evening. "Once in every generation," he said, "legislatures across the country have a chance to advance the cause of liberty and justice for all." Here's hoping this generation doesn't stop now.